On Wednesday 22nd of March I was delighted to join Mr Puddy and Mrs Tideswell in welcoming Alastair Campbell to Friesland Sixth Form.
Alastair was a key advisor in the Blair and Brown governments, spending time in varied roles such as Number 10’s Press Secretary, and then Director of Communications for Tony Blair. He is also a prolific writer, with his diaries in particular gaining notoriety for their frank nature.
The day began with Alastair explaining to students who he was and why he came to talk at Friesland. As a big fan of his work, as well as his time in government, I emailed Alastair on the off chance he might be able to visit. To my pleasant surprise, Alastair emailed back expressing interest – I passed it over to Mr Puddy and Mrs Tideswell who organised it through Speakers4Schools.
After discussing topical issues such as Brexit, mental health, Trump and Martin McGuiness, Alastair explained why it is so important for students from comprehensive schools like ours to have confidence and aspiration, to believe in themselves and their ability to affect change in the world. He was an inspiration and many students talked to me after the event explaining how they felt they had been motivated by Alastair to believe in themselves.
The second half hour of the talk was a question and answer section where a diverse range of topics were discussed. Everything from Donald Trump to Malcolm Tucker was mentioned, and Alastair was forthcoming and frank in every exchange! He never held back on any of his views, leading to entertaining exchanges between him and Friesland’s resident Corbyn, Brexit and Trump supporters.
At the ringing of the school bell at 2:40pm, most students left for home. A core group of around 15 people however headed over to the common room, where Alastair continued the talk. Eventually the talk descended into photographs, autographs and conversations. Alastair also brought several of his books which he signed and generously handed out to students. He also donated money to Willow Hempell’s superb effort for Comic Relief.
To sum up the day, it was a fantastic experience. Alastair was fascinating and challenging in equal measure, debating with students and not giving any ground, while being inspiring and motivating at the same time. It was a day that most at Friesland will not forget for a long time – I know I certainly won’t.
Many thanks to Denny for making this event happen. Irrespective of any political beliefs, Alastair’s example of battling with emotional health challenges and still leading a largely constructive life was very powerful to listen to. Our students asked typically intelligent and perceptive questions and certainly broadened their minds during this fascinating experience.